ANCHORAGE -

Alaska Wildlife Troopers say reports of illegal salmon fishing near Togiak earlier this month have led to the seizure of six fishing vessels and misdemeanor charges against nine local residents.

According to an AST dispatch released just before 4 p.m. Wednesday, on the night of July 8 troopers began to investigate claims that “commercial fishermen were operating outside the open area” of the Kulukak Bay section of the Togiak commercial salmon fishing district.

“A trooper in a Piper Super Cub flew the area and discovered multiple fishing vessels operating drift gillnet gear between 1 nautical mile (nm) and 2 nm outside the district,” troopers wrote. “The trooper photographed and documented the locations where boats were fishing, and was able to land on the water and interview one of the fishermen.”

A week later, troopers returned en masse to Togiak Bay on Department of Public Safety aircraft, as well as the patrol vessels Stimson and Kvichak.

“(Troopers) executed four search warrants resulting in the seizure of four commercial fishing vessels (including) the fishing vessels 5 G's, Skammin, Kalena Annielyse, and Good Deal,” troopers wrote. “On (July 16), a search warrant was served resulting in the seizure of the fishing vessel Inuli, and on (July 21), a search warrant was served resulting in the seizure of the fishing vessel Hammer Time.”

All six vessels’ owners were charged with misdemeanor fishing offenses: Rodney Gosuk of the 5 G’s, 39; Anthony Poulsen of the Skammin, 46; Alvaro Sutton of the Kalena Annielyse, 35; Kevin Harless of the Good Deal, 52; William Byayuk of the Inuli, 22; and Leroy Fox of the Hammer Time, 54. Four of the six owners -- Gosuk, Sutton, Harless and Byayuk -- also held the fishing permits for their vessels.

Troopers also charged three other people: Skammin permit holder Norma Ayojiak, 44, Skammin crew member Michael Poulsen, 21, and Hammer Time permit holder Will Fox, 18.

Between July 16 and Wednesday troopers say seven of the defendants, everyone except Michael Poulsen and Ayojiak, entered guilty pleas and were sentenced in Dillingham District Court.

AST spokesperson Megan Peters didn’t initially have estimates for the amount of cargo seized or the value of the seized vessels Wednesday afternoon. When asked about the scope of the incident, however, she noted the actions of a fellow state agency.

“After we did this, the Department of Fish and Game reduced the fish opening on the 15th, because they thought the illegal fishing would affect the (fishery’s) escapement,” Peters said.

Peters, who has been with AST since 2007, says she can’t remember a single case in which troopers seized six fishing vessels for illegal fishing.

Troopers referred questions on the sentencing of the defendants and the magnitude of the seizures to Dillingham court officials, who weren’t able to respond by close of business at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday.